1. This team is so much more fun to watch when Dez Bryant is on the field. Dez only had 2 catches for 12 yards vs the Seahawks in his first game back from his foot surgery but he returned to form vs the Eagles. Dez finished with 5 catches for 104 yards and a spectacular Hail Mary touchdown catch in Dallas' 33-27 OT loss, chronicled here with some "adding and subtracting'' from Fish and Jerry Jones.
In fact, his touchdown moved Dez into 88th place in NFL history in career TD catches. Here are some other stats of significance: Matt Cassel was the 5th QB to throw a TD pass to Dez, joining Kitna, Orton, Weeden and of course Romo. Dez now has 8 receiving TD's vs the Eagles - which is more than he has vs any other opponent. Also, Dez became just the 5th Cowboy in franchise history with 2+ catches in 25+ consecutive games. The other Cowboys to do so are Witten, Owens, Austin and Irvin.
The Cowboys need even more from Dez going forward. I bet they get it.
2. Cole Beasley had the best game of his career on Sunday night. After going catch-less in the two pervious games, Beasley caught 9 passes for 112 yards and 2 TD's - all of which are career highs. Fans were getting frustrated with Beasley's lack of production in recent but I'm glad to see that someone finally introduced Matt Cassel to #11. Beasley is an extremely reliable and important weapon to this offense. When they get him involved more, their odds of winning increase. In fact, coming into Sunday's game, the Cowboys were 3-0 in their last 3 games in which Beasley scored a touchdown.
3. Byron Jones was extremely impressive, once again. The rookie finished with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 pass breakups - including one at the goal line on 3rd down - and a QB hurry. Jones got beat by Matthews on the game-winning TD but that was in large part due to Wilcox being in bad position to give him help over the top and taking a poor angle to make the tackle. Jones has arguably been the team's best defensive player in the last 4 weeks, right there with Greg Hardy. Jones has 5 pass breakups in the last 3 games. The rest of the defense has 6 combined in that span. Here's another one for you, Jones has more pass breakups in the last 3 games than Carr has in his last 18 regular season games. This kid just gets better and better each week.
4. Greg Hardy added yet another sack to his stat sheet, giving him 4 in his 4 games this season. Hardy also had a few big QB hits that I'm sure Bradford is still feeling today. He was literally a split second away from causing a sack/fumble on the game-winning TD pass. His hand was about 6 inches away from Bradford's hand as he got ready to throw, but like so many plays this season, the Cowboys barely came up short. It truly is a game of inches.
Or, as Fish puts it ...
5. While Hardy gets most of the attention, the Cowboys seem to have found a gem in David Irving. Irving made a big play on special teams last week vs the Seahawks when he blocked a field-goal attempt. This week he got more opportunities on defense and he delivered. Irving was the most consistently disruptive defensive lineman on the team vs the Eagles. He recorded a tackle for a loss and a big QB hurry on back-to-back plays and had an impressive run stuff late in the 2nd quarter. Irving also had 2 big QB hits on 3rd down, the 2nd of which held Philly to a FG in the 4th quarter.
I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of Irving moving forward. Looks like another win for Will McClay and this scouting department.
6. Morris Claiborne continued to build on his impressive season. He had a nice pass breakup vs. Miles Austin early in the game and didn't allow any of the WR's to get much separation. Claiborne has played with more confidence than we've seen since his time at LSU. Meanwhile, his counterpart Brandon Carr also had a solid game. Carr was very physical vs the Eagles, making two really big hits including one on 3rd down to force an Eagles punt. Neither corner allowed a TD.
7. The duo of Rolando McClain and Sean Lee has arguably been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. They have not been what we thought they'd be. Lee has been productive but hasn't made a lot of big plays since Week 2. As for McClain, he hasn't even been good. He's missing tackles and he isn't playing with the aggressiveness or physicality that he regularly showcased in 2014. McClain has 11 tackles in the last three weeks compared to Lee's 25. McClain also had some bad luck in this game. He was directly involved in both injuries that took Lee and Hitchens out of the game. First he collided with Lee which resulted in his 2nd concussion of the year. (Lee is day-to-day as the Cowboys approach the trip to Tampa as he works through medical protocol.) Later he fell down which forced Hitchens to jump over him and fall awkwardly on his knee.
The dreams we all had of these two making up the best LB duo in the NFL seem so far away.
8. I'll admit, I may have been wrong about Darren McFadden. I didn't think he would have success here but he's been pretty damn impressive since his breakout game vs the Giants. Granted, the Cowboys are calling more run plays that are better suited for his style and skill set but it's working.
The thing that surprised me most on Sunday was McFadden's toughness and willingness to finish runs and fight for yards. This is a tough Philadelphia run defense and McFadden was able to carry defenders and make guys miss to earn extra yardage on a consistent basis. That's not something he was doing much of earlier in the season. McFadden took his opportunity as the starter and has run with it.
Another RB note: fan favorite Christine Michael saw zero snaps on Sunday. Meanwhile, Rod Smith saw 8 snaps. Something to keep an eye on.
And one more RB note ...
9. As usual, Dan Bailey was perfect. He kicked 2 clutch field goals in the 4th quarter to send the game into overtime. (Including his "doink.'') Bailey has completed all 16 field goals this season and is one of just three kickers this season to remain perfect with 16+ FG attempts. Chris Jones was impressive as well, regularly pinning the Eagles back deep in their own territory. Also, Lucky Whitehead may have earned a real shot as the primary returner after his 79-yard kickoff return.
Both he and Beasley have shown that they'll fumble every now and then but at least Whitehead has shown the ability to take one to the house. With Beasley as a returner you're putting yourself in a high risk/low reward situation. Whitehead's explosiveness puts you in a high risk/high reward situation. I'd go for the latter.
10. This game was a heartbreaker. Historically, teams that start out 2-6 simply don't make the playoffs. However, many of those teams were bad to begin with. The Cowboys are missing their star QB. When Romo is playing, this is pretty much the same team that went 12-4 and nearly made it to the NFC Championship Game last year. When Romo is on the field, this is a completely different team. Romo is brilliant at making pre-snap adjustments and is as good as anyone at reading the defense. He also helps the Cowboys defense by keeping them off the field and is more capable of capitalizing on the opportunities that the defense gives him than Cassel/Weeden. (Or Kellen Moore, waived on Tuesday with plans to activate linebacker Mark Nzeocha off NFI and bring Moore back as a practice-squadder.)
A healthy Romo makes the entire team so much better.
Call me delusional, call me a homer, call me crazy. I will remain optimistic regarding the Cowboys playoff hopes until it is mathematically impossible. Winning 7 of the last 8 is highly improbable but not impossible. Not with Romo, who gives the Cowboys a legitimate chance to win every single game. This happens to be Jerry Jones' official view, too ... as it relates to Romo and the second half of the Cowboys' season.
Some people are already saying it's over and they may end up being right, but I don't see the fun in watching these games with a defeatist attitude. There are only 16 games a year - a few more if we're lucky - and I intend on enjoying each and every one of them. I have much more fun when you go into them with hope, even if it is false hope.
As Albert Einstein once said, "I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right."